Global warming: “The future will depend closely on the decisions that will have to be taken this year”

A like Philippulus, the mad prophet who pursues Tintin by promising him the apocalypse in The mysterious star (Casterman, 1942), the heralds of the end of the world come out in the open and have even made a splash at Christmas. Witness the success of the comic strip signed by engineer Jean-Marc Jancovici and designer Christophe Blain, The Endless World (Dargaud, 196 pages, 27 euros). With rigor and humor, the climate emergency is detailed there, its origins and the means to respond to it, summarizing the theses that the author has defended for twenty years and which have made him a star of social networks. We could also have slipped under the tree a recording of the inaugural lesson by economist Christian Gollier, new visiting professor at the Collège de France, entitled “Between end of the month and end of the world: economics of our responsibilities towards humanity”.

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Even if Jean-Marc Jancovici likes to caricature economists, their demonstrations come together and shape a future for us which will depend closely on the decisions that will have to be taken this year. And that will be painful. The 2022 presidential candidates would be inspired to hear the message. What are they telling us? First of all, that the tremendous growth of the last two centuries, bringing comfort, technical progress and social protection, finds its origin in abundant and very cheap energy. According to Jancovici’s calculations, it provided each Frenchman with the equivalent of 600 slaves at his disposal to transport, house, heat, entertain and care for him. Christian Gollier recalls that the whale oil lighting of the 1800s cost 1,000 times more expensive than that of current electric lamps. Coal in the XIXe century, then oil in the twentiethe century have built the present society.

The price signal to change behavior

But if neither of the two denies these tremendous advances, in terms of wealth, social progress and health, it must be recognized that global warming and the degradation of biodiversity, mainly due to these fossil fuels, no longer allow us to continue at this pace. Of this, most people are now convinced. But they did not take into account the sacrifices that this implies: reducing the use of the car, the consumption of meat, travel, shopping, individual freedom.

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As a good liberal economist, Christian Gollier believes that the best solution to change behavior is the price signal. He even quantified the bill, with a taxation of the carbon content of products in the order of 150 euros per tonne, or five times more than the price charged to industrial large consumers in Europe at the start of 2021. The current energy crisis, due to the surge in gas prices, brings us closer… at the cost of a revival of inflation, an increase in inequalities and geopolitical risks. Managing this inevitable shift towards a more expensive world, because it is more economical, but also more unstable, should be at the top of the concerns of politicians at the start of 2022. A ten-year plan. Will they have the courage?

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Global warming: “The future will depend closely on the decisions that will have to be taken this year”